How We Spend Our Days: Robert Boyers

Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” On the first of each month, Catching Days hosts a guest writer in the series, “How We Spend Our Days.” Today, please welcome writer Robert Boyers:

Do most people have typical days? I suppose that this is the case, though I want very much to resist the idea, to insist that for most of us each day is apt to be at least somewhat singular. If I tell of one particular day in my life, will it plausibly stand for the others? I might say that a teaching day—Tuesdays and Thursdays, seven months each year—has its own peculiar shape, or that when I am away, on “vacation,” I spend the first four waking hours writing. I might say that on days when my wife and I have scheduled an evening dinner party we devote a couple of late afternoon hours to the standard preparations, or that each of us corresponds daily with a recently graduated student we have come to adore. But again, the variations are such as to make each day I can remember seem at least somewhat distinctive.

with Hillary Reder, the long-time SALMAGUNDI student assistant

Just back home from ten June days in Miami Beach, and with no classes to teach or students to see, I confront—with pleasure– a day of many assignments. I must make the time—five hours or so—to write two of the many introductions I will deliver at the New York State Summer Writers Institute in July. I must meet with the Associate Director of the program for a half hour or more to discuss class lists, tutorial assignments and other matters. In the course of the day Peg and I will manage, as we always do, to take a long walk and thus to talk through everything under the sun, from an irritating op-ed article by David Brooks in the NY Times to our grand-daughter’s imminent trip to Alaska. At some point I must speak on the phone with an agent about a memoiristic book on “the fate of ideas” I hope to complete on sabbatical leave in Italy this fall.

Bob and Peg

Somehow, in the course of the day, I will make time to read for a couple of hours in one of several books on liars and lying I have been slowly absorbing over several months. Though we’ll not be entertaining friends at home tonight, we’ll meet my friend Steven Millhauser for lunch at 1, as we often do during the academic year. In the evening, after dinner at home, there will be, no doubt about it, a walk, perhaps through the quiet, leafy Greenridge cemetery, perhaps to visit the horses stabled near one of the nearby town race tracks. By 9 or so there may be a little time for email, or a session in which Peg will read me the draft of a poem she has been wrestling with and I will tell her what I think. By 10, more than likely, we will pull up a couple of chairs and watch a film on our large-screen television. Studying our Netflix options as they fly by on the screen, I will say, that Italian film looks very promising, no?, and Peg will remind me that we saw it, and liked it, not very long ago.

with Carolyn Fourche and Mark Strand

AND THOSE SAME 3 QUESTIONS…

1. What is the best book you’ve read in the last few months and how did you choose it?

  • The best book I have lately read is The Invention of Solitude by Paul Auster. I read it because several friends have told me I had to, because I am to introduce Paul Auster at a public reading in July, and because I’ve long managed to read only the fiction of a writer I very much admire, only to discover that he is the author of the extraordinary early memoir, which has significantly altered the way I think of him.

2.Would you give us one little piece of writing advice?

  • Use your writing—even work written on assignment– to get to the very bottom of what you are thinking and feeling.

3. What is your strangest reading or writing habit?

  • I do all of my writing-for-publication by hand in blue examination books, and have done so for more than forty years. Is revision therefore often something of a nightmare? To be sure. Would it not be more efficient to compose on a computer? No doubt. Have I seriously considered making the switch? By no means.

Books by Robert Boyers:

6 thoughts on “How We Spend Our Days: Robert Boyers

  1. Revising in a notebook obviously works for Robert Boyers. Since it’s easier to revise on a computer, I wonder if it’s superstition or simply habit. Or is there something magic about the process?

  2. I have long admired just about everything Robert Boyers does – what he says, writes, and does in all of his many incarnations (writer, professor, editor of Salmangundi, director of the NY State Summer Writers Institute, friend, father, husband). But I’ve never heard an actual account of how he spends his days, and I am filled anew with admiration and astonishment at all he accomplishes, and at his grace and generosity – which shine through in this account – in his every endeavor.

Any thoughts?

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